Court Allows Swiss Bank to Deny Russian Oligarch Account: Report

Viktor Vekselberg attends a presentation by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in 2011. (Image courtesy of RIA Novosti archive, Aleksey Filippov, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Courthouse News)

GENEVA (AFP) — A Swiss court has ruled the country’s postal bank can refuse an account to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who lives in Switzerland and faces U.S. sanctions, Swiss media reported Thursday.

A trade court in Bern has granted the finance unit of the state-owned Swiss Post an exception to its mandate to provide universal payment services, the Keystone-ATS news agency reported after obtaining a copy of the verdict.

Vekselberg filed suit following Postfinance’s decision to close his account shortly after opening it, and other Swiss banks refused to take his business after he was added to the U.S. sanctions list in 2018.

The Russian billionaire, who heads Russian conglomerate the Renova Group and is close to the Kremlin, argued that he needed an account in Switzerland to be able to pay bills, taxes and live a normal life.

His lawyer had insisted during a hearing in September that Postfinance had an obligation to open an account for any person living in Switzerland, according to ATS.

But Postfinance’s legal team had argued that there was a clause in the bank’s mandate allowing it to exclude clients in certain cases, including if they posed a dire legal or reputational risk.

The bank’s lawyer had maintained that allowing Vekselberg to hold an account would have put the institution at risk of becoming a target of U.S. sanctions.

The Russian’s lawyer had stressed that his client was looking only to open a personal account, not a business account, and that this would not have placed Postfinance at risk of running foul of the U.S. sanction rules. 

But the Bern court said that considering Vekselberg’s high level of exposure, it would grant Postfinance’s request to deny him an account, according to ATS. 

Vekselberg, whose fortune was estimated by Forbes at over $11 billion at the end of 2019, was among a number of Russian oligarchs, officials and companies slapped with sanctions in April 2018.

President Donald Trump’s administration said the measures were aimed at punishing Russia for a range of actions, including election interference and its support of the Syrian government. 

After he was added to the list, Vekselberg, who lives in Zug, reduced his participation in several Swiss companies to help them avoid being hit with U.S. sanctions.

© Agence France-Presse

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